lawmakers

Lawmakers close to approving $3K bump in office allowance for selves, higher contribution limits

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

With just days remaining in the legislative session, state lawmakers are getting close to giving final approval to a bill providing each of them a $3,000 annual bump in their home office allowance.

The bill would also hike legislators’ per diem amounts to reflect the average cost of hotels in Nashville’s busy — and pricey — downtown business district rather than the rate allowed for federal workers ($234 per night this year).

And best of all for lawmakers, they get the money regardless of how much (or little) they actually spend on their home offices or lodging in Nashville. No need to submit receipts. And the home office allowance would be indexed to the consumer price index — the urban version, even though most lawmakers live in rural areas — meaning it will have automatic increases in the future.

House members are currently limited to mileage reimbursement for one round-trip between their home and the Capitol per week. The bill would allow them to put in for as many trips as they choose to take.

The changes are estimated to cost an additional $438,000 per year. The Senate has already approved the changes, and the House is expected to vote on whether to concur early this week.

Meanwhile, a separate bill would double the contribution limits for senate candidates who have long complained that they shouldn’t be held to the same standards as those running for the House because their terms are twice as long and they represent three times as many people. Under the latest version of the bill headed for a final vote in the Senate, the House would also get a boost in the amount candidates for the lower chamber could receive from each PAC from from $8,300 to $12,700, bringing them into line with those running for Senate or governor.

McNally: Lawmakers should resign if arrested

Rep. Glen Casada speaks to fellow Republicans in a caucus meeting on Jan. 10, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican who wore a wire for the FBI in the Rocky Top investigation in the 1980s, says state lawmakers who who had their homes and offices searched by federal agents should resign if they are arrested.

“Of course nobody’s been arrested. They’ve just had search warrants,” McNally told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “But, if somebody’s arrested, I think they should resign.”

The lawmakers who had their offices and homes raided on Friday include former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson), and Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill). The FBI is also looking into former top Casada aide Cade Cothren, interim House Chief of Staff Holt Whitt, and two legislative staffers.

So far we’ve heard from the lawyers of Smith and Whitt:

[Smith] intends to cooperate fully with the investigation in all respects. while she would have preferred to do so voluntarily, Robin understands this may not have been possible…. [She] “is not the target of the investigation, and she has not done anything wrong. Please understand that due to the ongoing investigation, Robin will not be providing any further comment.”

— Smith attorney Ben Rose to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Holt Whitt was one of several individuals contacted by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding an ongoing investigation. Mr. Whitt is a well-respected legislative aide with an impeccable reputation, and he has not been charged with any wrongdoing. He is cooperating fully with the investigation. Out of respect for the legal process, Mr. Whitt will have no further public comment regarding this matter.”

— Whitt attorney Ty Howard.

Federal agents descended on Rep. Warner’s home and business in Marshall County with search warrants, the contents of which remain shrouded in mystery by the government. Significantly, Rep. Warner has not been charged with any wrongdoing.”

— Warner’s attorney Peter Strianse

Day 1 of the ‘coronasession’ in pictures

Lawmakers attend a House floor session in Nashville on March 16, 2020. Watching from the gallery are, from left, Reps. Johnny Garrett (R-Goodlettsville), Bob Freeman (D-Nashville), and Bill Beck (D-Nashville). (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here are some images from the first day of what has been dubbed the “coronasession.”

Gov. Bill Lee and aides arrive for a press conference on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Reporters practice social distancing during Gov. Bill Lee’s press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Michael Curcio (R-Dickson) watches a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic from the House gallery in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) attends a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

From right, Reps. Kirk Haston (R-Lobelville), Mary Littleton (R-Dickson), Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport), and Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) attend a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Continue reading